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The National Trial Lawyers
Greater Lowell Bar Association

Improper Care of a Dog

In Massachusetts, there is a general animal cruelty statute, found in the criminal section of the general laws, that applies to all domestic animals. In the licensing section of the general laws, there is another statute that applies specifically to the treatment of dogs. The statute is remarkably specific and contains the following guidelines:

  • A dog owner is not permitted to tether the dog to a stationary object (including a dog house, a tree, or a pole) for more than 24 consecutive hours.

  • When a dog is tied up on an owner’s property, the rope or chain must be short enough to prevent the dog from wandering further than the boundaries of the property.

  • The leash used by the owner (whether it’s a chain, a rope, or some other type of material) cannot weigh more than one-eighth of the dog’s body weight.

  • A puppy under the age of six months is not permitted to be tethered outside at all.

In the event that a dog owner chooses to confine the dog in an outside pen or enclosure, the following conditions must be satisfied:

  • The pen needs to be at least 100 square feet (enough room for the dog to exercise).

  • The pen needs to be closed on all four sides by a chain link fence or some other similar material.

  • The walls of the pen need to be high enough to prevent the dog from escaping.

An owner may also attach a dog to a cable run but:

  • Only one dog is allowed to be tethered to a cable run.

  • The dog’s collar that is attached to the cable run must be loose enough to allow two adult fingers to fit between the collar and the dog’s body.

  • The tether needs to have at least one swivel to prevent the tether from tangling.

  • The cable run and the tether are required to be at least 10 feet long.

  • Even when attached to the cable run, the dog must have access to clean water and shelter. The shelter is required to keep the dog dry and needs to have at least three sides, a solid floor, and a roof. Further, the shelter needs to contain clean bedding. It is required to be small enough to retain the dog’s body heat but large enough to allow the dog to stand up, turn around, and lie down.

The statute also provides that a dog owner is prohibited from subjecting a dog to “cruel conditions.” Cruel conditions include exposure of the dog to excessive garbage, animal waste, noxious odors, dirty water, or other dangerous objects that could harm a dog’s emotional or physical health. Finally, the statute prohibits anyone from hitting, prodding, harassing, taunting, or threatening a confined or tethered dog, or from subjecting a dog to dangerous conditions including being attacked by another animal.

The penalty for violating this statute is a fine only. However, if there are multiple violations, the Commonwealth can seize the dog and house it at a shelter until the owner comes into compliance with the law. In extreme examples where the owner repeatedly violates this section, the Commonwealth can take the dog away from its owner.

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